Gi vs No-Gi? How About Use All Clothes

27 Sep 2023

The Gi vs No Gi debate is as valid as the two-party political debate in the United States of America.

Which is to say, it is too narrow in scope to account for long-term decisions at scale.

If you’re wondering about what is best to wear for submission grappling, read on.

Clothes are Constraints
Using Armor
Using Everyday Clothes

READING TIME: 5 minutes

John Danaher gave us a clue when he pointed out the benefits of both gi and no gi. He said gi is better for training defense, and no-gi is better for training attack.

The cloth of the gi affords people better grips to aid their attacks, and the lack of grips in no-gi makes it more difficult to attack.

This question continues among adherents of the Ecological Approach, which is surprising.

An ecological approach should convey an answer that exists outside of the debate. Variation in constraints prepares players to solve novel problems in a changing world. What we wear is an additional constraint to our game.

To build a greater understanding of grappling, people should be grappling in all sorts of clothing (and without it).

Clothes are Constraints

The benefit is clear: you learn new methods of solving the problem that may transfer to your game. For example, Chris Paines mentions grips that are used in oiled Turkish wrestling. These are useful in a sweaty no-gi situation. The Turkish oiled tradition paints a target on the necessity of finding grips that work even when there is no cloth to grab onto, and the skin is slick. So they found bone grips. Grips that are useful in all submission grappling.

How long would it take someone to discover those solutions if everyone stuck to gi and no-gi?

Sure, it’s not as necessary if we’re training for a single competition ruleset. And that’s perhaps when we might look at why we train.

Many people train for self-defense. In what world is a gi representative of a self-defense situation?

A world in which everyone wears hanten.

If the motivation is solely excellence in the ruleset of a sport, then, yes, it makes sense to stick to gi or no-gi. But even then, as in the benefits highlighted by Danaher and Paines, it would pay to introduce some variation by training in other clothes from time to time. But why stop there?

Add an oiled no-gi day!

An oversized hoodie day! So there’s even more cloth for your opponent to grab.

This will prepare players for their game. If you can pull off a submission on someone who is oiled, you will be that much better at submitting someone who isn’t covered in oil. If you can escape while wearing an oversized hoodie, it will be that much easier for you to escape when you’re wearing nothing but a rashguard.

Using Armor

Law Enforcement and military personnel can have a drastically different reason for training.

For them, it would pay to train in full kit. There are plastic plates that can be used to avoid damaging your plates, or you could just use old ones. There are additional dangers (imagine accidentally headbutting someone with your kevlar helmet on), but those can be accounted for. The hard parts of kit also offer new ways to wedge joints.

Familiarizing themselves with those would help people better integrate the principles of grappling.

Both HEMA and Jiu-Jitsu contain histories of an armored constraint, and it seems like there’s plenty of opportunity for people to better explore that space in a modern context.

I remember going through an obstacle course with groin armor on. It really changed how I went over some walls.

There are all sorts of affordances waiting to be re-discovered.

Using Everyday Clothes

BJJ came up in a spirit of ritualistic unarmed duels. The motivations for that are going to be different from the motivations of the sport today, as well as people who are training for self-defense or for tribal challenges.

Four Pillars Academy is a parkour & BJJ gym in Chennai, India. The founders charge regular members who train in gis, but they also provide free training to slum kids. Those kids wear whatever they normally wear. They were fighting every week, to begin with. BJJ gives them a means to limit the damage that might be done to them or others.

None of their families can afford gis- a specialized piece of sports equipment associated with a luxury service. Others have written about the class divide between BJJ and Vale Tudo.

If we want to bring submission grappling to people who don’t have access to running water, we would benefit from transitioning to using everyday clothes.

Training in casual clothing would give us situations that are more representative of people’s everyday lives.

Over time, we would no doubt have reinforced t-shirts, hoodies, shorts, joggers, and so on. But almost anyone could still grab some clothes from a thrift shop or corner dump and walk into a grappling class.

All children and mammals discover the joy of wrestling at some point.

It’s on us to help adults tap into that.